The second-year quarterback threw three interceptions against the Patriots in a game that would have been a statement victory if his untimely and discouraging flubs hadn’t turned it into a bitter loss. Suddenly a fan base that bought into the early hype, thought it finally had the player who could end their long stretch of disappointment, found itself rightly skeptical.
This is the guy? Our guy?
Yep. Josh Allen has since shown he is.
It’s worth noting that the almighty figure the Jets will face on Sunday, the likely MVP of the league and the player with the best chance to deliver a championship to Buffalo since Jim Kelly, not very long ago was in an eerily similar situation to the one Jets quarterback Zach Wilson finds himself currently navigating. Three picks against New England. Winnable game. Doubts and grumbles from the outside.
“I was at that same position,” Allen said this past week on his podcast with NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt, recalling his 2019 nadir. “I threw three picks against the Patriots my second year, and that’s kind of the game where it all clicked for me. So you can take that for what it is.”
Last year in Week 2, another unproven second-year quarterback threw three awful interceptions in a loss to the Bears. “I don’t know how you respond, honestly,” his best receiver said after that deflating game. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Joe Burrow, the quarterback in question, went on to bring the Bengals and Ja’Marr Chase, the rookie who wondered aloud how things would turn out, to the Super Bowl.
Will Wilson rebound the way Allen and Burrow and countless other quarterbacks have over the years, launching off what would become a rock-bottom game in their careers toward success in pro football?
That we don’t know. Just because stories have similar beginnings does not guarantee they will run on parallel narratives toward similar endings.
Wilson very well may become the quarterback the Jets think he can be, the one who will contend for MVP awards and be the first to hoist a silver trophy for the franchise in more than a half-century. Or he may not.
But there is one certainty that can be applied to him as he comes off last week’s dismal game, comes through this week of support group-style ego-boosting from the team’s leadership and the hand-wringing, head-shaking, damning film study from the rest of us, only to step back on the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday to face the best team in the AFC and one of the favorites to win it all this season:
He and his tenure here will be defined not by what happened against the Patriots on Oct. 30, 2022, but by what he does from then onward.
It’s why the most important thing that can happen in this game is not a win over the Bills, which of course would be a delightful way to head into the Jets’ bye week, but simply the avoidance of a loss due to the quarterback’s mistakes.
The Bills are a better team than the Jets at this moment, a hierarchy that few can argue against, but they are not unbeatable. The Jets’ defense can slow them down. The running game can grind it out. For those things to add up to a victory, the bad quarterbacking of last week has to disappear.
“It’s OK to be boring, and sometimes being bored is good enough,” Robert Saleh said of what he wants to see from Wilson this week. “Sometimes the best play is making the boring throw-away that he was doing a really nice job of four of the last five weeks. The balance is to understand that we have a pretty good team, you’re surrounded by really good players, and that if we could just live to play another down, eventually we’ll get to where we need to get to and our playmakers will make plays.”
There will come a point when the Jets ask Wilson to win them a big game. This is not that. Jets fans would gladly stuff the online ballot boxes to name him the Ambien Quarterback of the Week if he can yawn and snooze his way to a win on Sunday.
Allen knows that.
“Sometimes it takes a little longer [for players to settle in],” Allen said in regard to Wilson on that podcast. “It took me a while to kind of understand the nuances of this game and trying not to do too much. I think that’s what it comes down to, not trying to do too much . . . Allowing you to trust your guys on the field with you.”
Wilson has discovered a lot during the past month or so. He found out what works in those four straight wins and, perhaps more importantly for his long-term development, he found out what does not work last week against New England.
He says he’s learned those lessons. Now we’ll see if it has clicked.
It’s up to him and him alone to determine the kind of quarterback he wants to become — one for whom that three-interception loss to the Patriots, like Allen’s, serves as an interesting footnote to a stellar career, or one for whom it lingers and forever foreshadows future failures.